Like father, like son?Last month, the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA) launched a new interactive map, which aims to provide information on pipeline location throughout the country. This move to transparency caters to the increasing public interest in proximity to pipeline infrastructure. By December, CEPA hopes to add information about any pipeline that has experienced a problem in the past five years.
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As for the next five years, Canada’s parliament is entering a new term with a Liberal government in power. Justin Trudeau won the general election last month and steps into power as Prime Minister at a time when issues of energy, environment and economy dominate public discourse. Outgoing Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government vigorously championed oil and gas pipeline projects but, in doing so, bumped up against various factions. Analysts blame Harper’s heavy hand for a deterioration in the relationship between the US and Canada on energy matters, and for creating general public distrust of politicians pitching pipelines. Harper’s environmental credentials were seen to be lacking: he was keen for Canadian oil to reach market and was happy to promote a global reach, including destinations that would involve tankers and other environmentally unfriendly solutions.
So where does Trudeau stand on pipelines? Let’s start with what he is not: he is not, he hastens to reassure all who will listen, his father. Trudeau’s father Pierre Trudeau, who was Canadian Prime Minister from 1968 - 1984, famously toted unpopular energy policies including a national energy programme (NEP) that gave the federal government more control over the energy sector and introduced taxes and price controls that were tough on producers. The NEP translated into Albertan oil profits being shared across the country. Its three main aims were: to boost Canadian ownership in the oil industry; to make the country a self-sufficient oil producer; and to increase the federal share of energy revenue.
It marked a period of increased government involvement in the energy industry in Canada, following the various global energy crises in the 1970s. But Alberta has always railed against federal impositions and argued for more input in decision-making, owing to its economic strength as a province.
Justin Trudeau faces a tough crowd as he comes into power. The drop in oil prices has taken a huge toll on producers in Canada, where oilsands crude is costly to extract and transport and where pipeline capacity is severely lacking. Several big pipeline projects remain in limbo, including Keystone XL, Northern Gateway, Energy East and the Trans Mountain extension.
Trudeau has publicly supported Keystone XL, but come down against Northern Gateway (Enbridge’s plan to build a twin pipeline from Alberta to Kitimat, British Columbia, for shipment to Asia).
As for Energy East: a member of Trudeau’s advisory team caused controversy a week before the election, when it was revealed he had sent a letter to TransCanada officials suggesting ways in which they could best lobby a Liberal government to get the pipeline built. Dan Gagnier admitted writing to five TransCanada personnel and offered his resignation in the wake of the public outcry. Trudeau agreed with the resignation and re-emphasised his party’s pledge to act on the highest possible ethical standards.
Trudeau’s other promises include the construction of key pipeline infrastructure; national targets for greenhouse gas reductions; carbon taxes at a provincial level and further oilsands development. In contrast to his father’s ethos, Trudeau has been quoted as saying: “The environment and the economy … they go together like paddles and canoes.”1 Let’s hope Trudeau’s new transparent, balanced, even keeled administration appeals to a raft of investors and gets those pipeline projects afloat.